The Rev. Dr. Fred G. Garry
Scripture Reference: Matthew 8:28-34
When he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demoniacs coming out of the tombs met him. They were so fierce that no one could pass that way. Suddenly they shouted, “What have you to do with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” Now a large herd of swine was feeding at some distance from them. The demons begged him, “If you cast us out, send us into the herd of swine.” And he said to them, “Go!” So they came out and entered the swine; and suddenly, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and perished in the water. The swineherds ran off, and on going into the town, they told the whole story about what had happened to the demoniacs. Then the whole town came out to meet Jesus; and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their neighborhood.
I want to ask Viggo Mortensen some questions. Viggo Mortensen is a well-known actor, nominated numerous times for Academy awards. I want to ask him about Sigmund Freud.
This may sound a little nutty, but I had a chance on a few occasions to ask him. Viggo Mortensen went to high school in Watertown, New York; he went to college about an hour north at St. Lawrence University where my daughters graduated. His mother lived in town. So from time to time he would come to visit. The problem is, where I could have asked him about Sigmund Freud was at funerals and that just seemed a bit impolite.
Mortensen played Sigmund Freud in a movie that came out a decade ago. The movie explores the friendship of Freud and Carl Jung, or more directly how their friendship falls apart, and, in the end is never reconciled. What was once a loving relationship is destroyed. I want to know what it meant to be Freud and also to be in that friendship.
Hence, my question is two-fold. The first part is simply what was it like to be Sigmund Freud? Freud is perhaps the most important philosopher of the twentieth century, he lived in Vienna, the artistic hub of the Western world, and he undid the legacy of four centuries of culture. What did it feel like to step into his skin?
It turns out this first part of my question has been asked on numerous occasions. After the movie came out, interviewer after interviewer asked, “what did it feel like to be Sigmund Freud; how did you find your way into his mind, his heart, his life?” Mortensen said he went to his library. He looked at the books Freud read. He also smoked a lot of cigars. Freud smoked more than a dozen a day. But, he said, what helped the most was irony. Freud was all about holding opposites in relation, or noticing the contradictions in things but not trying to reconcile them.
The other part of my question, what I still want to know, is this: how much did he allow for hope? Did he have to suppress hope, keep it at bay? Did a sense of hopefulness make its way into his experience? I say this because at the heart of the split between Freud and Jung was the matter of hope.
Freud believed we are born a neurotic creature and we die a neurotic creature whose repressive needs destroys our self. The needs are unconscious, subconscious, revealed in mistakes and drives and dreams. Carl Jung believed the same, but he also believed we could be healed. The true, the good, the beautiful was in us and could be uncovered if we explored our memories from experience and from what is eternal in us. Freud argued such optimism was dangerous. The best we could hope for in life was the ability to cope with neurosis; we could not be free from it.
Ultimately, Freud would find his way unto hope. In his later writings he shifted from cynicism to a hope in freedom. But when his friendship with Jung fell apart, Freud saw any type of optimism as fantasy, a type of magical thinking. Religion was the domain of miracles, not science.
So my question was and remains, how did Mortensen experience hope? In taking on the gaze of Freud, looking at his friend and protégé Jung, what did he hope? For at the heart of the profound change brought to us by Freud and Jung is the essence of how life becomes better. Each of them rediscovered the path unto hope, they each found the way in memory.
Hope changes us. And, discovering what is truly to be hoped for changes everything. When I marry people, I ask them to write down what they hope for their spouse. Don’t tell me you want to have a good life together or have a happy marriage, I direct. What do you hope for the one you are to marry?
I ask this to hear the intent and with the intent I can focus what I write and say to match the ones to be wed. But I also ask this because we don’t consider hope enough, we are unclear about what it is we hope. This is born out in the responses. For decades now the consistent hope of one spouse for another is that they would listen and trust their own heart, would be daring enough to find what they hope.
Hope may not seem frightening, but it can be if you are not sure. Left undefined, unexplored we have to hide, to live doing our best to not be noticed, to abide in ambiguous desire. All the while, buried in us is the truth of life, the power to find what is great and good. But what if you dig down and what you find is not good? What if beneath all the poetic images and talk of splendor is something beyond repair? What then? This is what broke the friendship of Freud and Jung, this danger. What if there is no real hope of freedom?
This daunting question is at the heart of our readings today, the two versions of the healing of the demoniac. One version of the story, Mark’s, is very Jungian. The demoniac is healed; his healing is so complete he is now ready to reenter life as an itinerant preacher proclaiming the good news. The other version of the story, Matthew’s version, is very Freudian, deeply cynical. With Matthew we must remain in the darkness as it were.
We could say that each one is its own story; you need not look at them together. Or it could be that one is a truer version and the other is less accurate, mistaken. Scholars have tried each of these for centuries, to reconcile these two accounts. Many have tried to overcome the difference and they have failed. Rare is the part of scripture where scholars give up, admit defeat, but this is one. The differences in the two voices, Matthew’s version and Mark’s, are not a difference of nuance. The difference is so profound, you do them both an injustice by trying to reconcile them.
To see the differences is not hard. Matthew tells a story of Gadarene; Mark speaks of Gerasene. They both start with the letter “g” but they are indeed different towns. Mark speaks of one man who is possessed by “Legion;” Matthew speaks of two men who are possessed of demons. In Mark you have the incredible image of the once possessed, violent man who is now calm and peaceful and healed begging to be a follower of Jesus. In Matthew, and this is the most important difference, in Matthew there is no mention of the men who were possessed. We can assume they are healed, made right. But Matthew doesn’t tell us. And that is the key to the two voices.
Matthew is denying, omitting hope. He took Mark’s story and removed the image of healing. And not just a minor mention. There are many such minor mentions in the gospels where it says, and he was made well or she was healed at that very hour. To take something like that out would have still been significant, but the image of healing here is not a mention. This is one of the most vibrant, dramatic, powerful images of healing in the gospels. To go from violence to peace, to go from living in the tombs to living in freedom is what Mark describes. Matthew removes all of this. What we are left with is only violence and a refusal to trust Jesus.
In Mark you can read the request of the Gerasenes, that Jesus depart from them, you can read this as a moment of humility. Many scholars take this view. And it is not a bad reading. How many of us have had the moment in our lives where things are too good to be true? We feel unworthy of what is good in life. You can read Mark this way. But you cannot read Matthew as a sense of worthiness. There is no clear description of the healing, so we are left with a sense that the people of Gaderene just didn’t want to hope life could change for the better. Again, deeply cynical.
Trying to reconcile these two stories is an incredible waste of time if what you need is for one story to be right and the other wrong, or one story to be better and the other worse. To find the power here, we must listen to both, hold both of them up, and let them both be true. This is why, I believe, Matthew changed his version. The second demoniac is there to say, this is not a different account; this is a different way of looking at life and, most importantly, hope.
Understanding the value of optimism in Mark’s version, in his view or voice, doesn’t take much explanation. Most people want to believe life gets better; most people I meet trust the idea that we can be healed, made right, reconciled. It’s called the good news for a reason. We believe God is reconciling the world in Jesus Christ, making the broken whole. You can see this in the once possessed now made right.
In the same way, people who are cynical can be distrusted, dismissed even. We will grant the cynic freedom to be dark and depressed as we say, Lighten up. Don’t take life so seriously. We say this to the gloomy, the pessimist, the one unwilling to hope. Freud’s sincere trust in our neurotic brokenness is an incredibly clear picture of this as is Matthew’s version of the demoniacs who lived in the tomb. God is reconciling the world, but it didn’t turn out well here. We believe in Jesus Christ, but this village asked him to leave. And sometimes, the broken stays broken.
There are two ways we can explore our heart and the depth of memories that lie within. We can explore our heart looking for what is beyond our failure. We can look for the truth that abides in us no matter our faults and failures and misdeeds. This truth, the image of God in us, is there; it is always there. This is what Jung went looking for in archetypes and myths and the subconscious, what connects us to all people, binds us together into a common humanity.
And we can explore our heart looking for what is broken, the fear and darkness within us. This is what Jesus called evil, this is the end of the prayer he taught us to pray, deliver us from evil, the evil within each heart. Here freedom is not found in what is always good and true and beauty, here freedom is found in the daring courage to confront desire and failure and fault; here we are envious and greedy and lustful and dishonest and, well, wretched. This is what Nietzsche begged his reader to consider so to go beyond the reach of shame.
There is freedom to be found in Mark and in Matthew. But not one at the expense of the other. We must revel in the beauty of the man now healed asking to follow Jesus. We must take heart that we too can be so free. And we must be honest with Matthew. He didn’t omit a nuance of the story; he created the version where things didn’t work out, where the brokenness of life persists, where death and destruction and violence continue no matter our intent and effort.
Hope is born of honesty, not fantasy. We must listen to Mark and in the depth of honesty explore our heart for what is true and good and beautiful; and we must listen to Matthew and explore our heart for what is dishonest, broken, and violent. If we are honest about both, we will find the Kingdom of God within us. Amen.
- Mark 5:1 - 20
- Matthew 8:28 - 34